Sunday, November 25, 2012

Capture Your Personal Experiences

Excitement was in the air at our house. For the first time in years, our adult children gathered at our dining room table for Thanksgiving. Weeks of planning went into this event with multiple trips to the airport (as well as to the grocery store). Finally the big day arrived.

The food was excellent and everyone gathered at the table—except for one son-in-law who was present yet uttered some excuse that prevented him from sitting with the rest of us.

Yes a disappointment yet also an opportunity. We decided not to let this person ruin our joy and thankfulness and instead we learned to choose to celebrate the gathering of family and our time together.

My story needs more detail but does give you a real recent event in my family. Yet notice I don't just tell it for the sake of telling it. I draw you to a point or take away or a reason for the story. 

We've just gone through the holiday of Thanksgiving and I suspect many of you have had unique and interesting personal experiences. Are you writing these experiences down so you recall the dialogue, the feelings and the taste and smells? 

These experiences can be writing opportunities for magazine articles, an illustration for your nonfiction book or fodder for your work-in-progress novel. I encourage you to capture the details shortly after it happens so you can recall it. Maybe slip away to your keyboard and write the words when they are raw. Or you can add them to a journal so you remember them.

Almost every magazine uses personal experience stories—and in particular they are looking for articles connected to a holiday. Often magazines are working three to six months in the future. If you have these holiday stories, they can be used for next year's writing assignments.

One of the critical elements for any personal experience story is to lead the reader with the stories to a single point or take away. The take away can be your final paragraph or sentences.

Some of these experiences will have great joy while others will be a challenge or difficulty that you found the path to complete. As you find that path and write about it, you can help others who travel the same journey and experience the same emotions.

In this holiday season, I encourage you to look for these little stories and build them into your writing life

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Forever Grateful

It’s pretty remarkable that America has a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day where we count our blessings and remember people with thankful hearts. When it really comes right down to it, it shouldn’t take a national celebration to turn thankful.

When it comes to my writing life, it doesn’t take long for me to turn to my high school English teacher, David Smith. I don’t know what Mr. Smith recognized in my writing but he did see something—or maybe he dreamed that he spotted it. Whatever the case, Mr. Smith encouraged me to join the staff of the high school newspaper and do a bit of writing outside of school. I followed his suggestion and it took me on the path of journalism and my own writing career. 

About seventeen years ago, I decided to return to Mr. Smith, see if I could track down his address and write a sincere letter of gratitude. Unfortunately my effort was too late. I contacted someone in my old high school and learned that Mr. Smith had died a few years earlier. Then I asked about another English teacher but I learned that she had also died. 

Finally I asked about a speech teacher who was an influence on my writing. Almost every weekend throughout high school, I competed somewhere in the state in a speech meet—with this speech teacher guiding our team efforts. This speech coach had been in an accident but was still living. I managed to contact his wife and send a couple of my published books. I wrote this teacher and expressed my gratitude. A couple of years later, I learned that he also had died. 

Time is passing for each of us and it’s a shame not to express thankfulness throughout the year. Don’t store it up for one single day but be forever grateful. 

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy 3:1–5, he writes a list of horrible sins during the last days of the earth. One word is tucked into this list—ungrateful. Ingratitude is rampant in our world. Instead I want to walk to the beat of a different drum—and try and express my gratitude to others. It should be every day—rather than a once a year occasion. 

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why You Should Meet Your Deadlines

As a young reporter, I learned the importance of meeting deadlines. One summer I worked for my local newspaper. We would have an editorial meeting early in the morning and get our assignments. I had to turn in my story by our 11 a.m deadline and the paper was printed by 3 p.m. If I missed my deadline, the story was killed. Deadlines motivated me to keep my fingers on the keyboard and complete my writing.

Many writers are notorious procrastinators. They sharpen their pencils, read Facebook, answer email, make coffee or anything that will prevent them from writing more on their manuscript.

Some book authors are repeatedly late in meeting their book deadlines. Some writers miss their due date by years. These authors who are late cause a huge negative ripple effect on their relationships within the publishing house (whether they know it or not).

When you sign a book contract with a publisher, it sets off a detailed chain of events within the publisher. They have specific deadlines for internal benchmarks like writing your catalog copy or the press release for your book or presenting your book to the sales team. If you miss your deadline, then without knowing it, you have potentially derailed the success of your book. 

It doesn't matter what you write: newsletters, magazines, nonfiction books or novels, it's important for you to meet your deadlines—even if you don't come from a journalism background (like I do).

Here's some tips for you in this important writing area:

1. Set your own deadlines and make them. Break down your assignment into smaller steps and complete those benchmarks. Success will breed success and you will get better and better at achieving your goals.

2. Many writers set a production word count for their writing. You can do this with short magazine articles or chapters for your current work-in-progress or any other type of writing. Set a realistic word count that you can achieve.

3. Set your personal deadline ahead of the deadline from the publication or publisher. Interruptions, sickness, accidents and other things are bound to interfere with your schedule. It happens to everyone. The central question is how will you handle those delays. Will you make up for the time with extra effort? Will you write so you are ahead of the curve and can make allowance for the delay? Or will you have to call your editor (or email them) asking for more time?

If you want to be a stand-out, go-to writer among writers (and most of us do want to be that type of writer), then you need to consistently beat (turn in ahead of time) or meet your deadlines. Editors want to work with writers who are dependable—and no matter what the writer is facing, they are able to deliver excellent writing that meets their needs. 

Let's be honest. Quality storytelling is a challenge to locate. And if the writer can deliver quality material on or before the deadline, then the writer has elevated his profile and becomes attractive to the editor.

It's important for you to meet your deadlines with editors.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Seek Kernels of Insight

Are you looking for kernels of insight into your writing life?

From my experience, these insights spring from many different places. It is critical that you be consciously looking for the insight which will make a difference in your own writing life.

For example, some writers bemoan that they aren't getting enough of their writing into print. Yet if you ask them the details, you will discover they aren't working at building relationships with key decision makers in the marketplace (editors and agents). Or they aren't submitting their work for consideration. 

Your magazine article or your novel or your nonfiction book will not get published by osmosis. You have to proactively pitch to the market.

Other writers grouse that their book is not selling many copies or they aren't getting enough book reviews or media interviews. 

Each of these situations can be conquered yet it will take consistent action from you. Do you have a plan and are you consistently working your plan?

Throughout my day, I'm reading different articles and blogs and looking for kernels of insight. For example, today my friend Bob Bly sent this article: Practical Techniques for Producing Profitable Ideas. I encourage you to read this article because you can gain several key insights to incorporate into your writing life.

Also throughout my day, if I get an idea, I take action on that idea as soon as possible. Today an editor came into my mind who I have not contacted or thought about in months. I had an idea to pitch to this editor so quickly went to my email and wrote a short and pointed email with my idea. Will it work? I have no idea but I've taken action on the idea and it's now out into the world where something could happen from that idea.

I recorded over a dozen different ways that writers can make money from their books. If you haven't heard this teleseminar, you can have immediate access to it. Download it and listen to my teaching—yet listen with a pen and paper in hand ready to write down any kernels of insight or fresh ideas. Then take action on those ideas. 

If you incorporate these insights into your day, then you will be following what my friend Peggy McColl calls the Law of GOYA. At the recent Author 101 University, Peggy told about this Law of GOYA. I'd never heard of it but in this article, she attributes it to another bestselling author, John Assaraf meaning: The Law of Get Off Your A... (assets?)

Take action on your kernels of insight and let me know how it goes for you.

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Building Your Platform? Don’t Ignore the Old Media

Editor’s note: Recently I read and reviewed You Should Really Write a Book by Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson. As a part of my commitment to bring you pointed information. I reached out to these authors and got permission to use this fabulous excerpt.
By Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson

Given that by 2012 the newspaper industry was half as big as it had been seven years earlier, you might be tempted to believe that newspapers are history, but au contraire

While an estimated one- third of U.S. newsrooms have disappeared, other companies are continuing to cover their markets— in print and/or online— with fewer reporters while continuing to look for content (written by various writers, and that could mean you).

Community newspapers and those with national footprints seem to be holding ground. And there are also more online news organizations, as well as newspaper editions using bloggers to keep the public informed on local stories. 

So in your effort to build a platform, don’t ignore old media in favor of new. It can be beneficial to incorporate both in your plans. To that end, keep an eye on newspaper Web sites, because that’s precisely what editors at understaffed organizations are doing: trolling the sites of established media, and searching for content and story ideas. Getting stories, essays, letters, reviews, or your blog into a newspaper can help you build an audience, especially if the publication will include your online contact information at the end of the piece. 

Author Susan Gregory Thomas used newspapers to great effect in the marketing of her memoir In Spite of Everything (Random House: 2011). Three weeks before the book’s publication, she was one of several people interviewed in a New York Times feature, “How Divorce Lost Its Cachet.” The story and Gregory Thomas’s book examined trends that suggest a reluctance to divorce among college- educated Generation Xers, in response to growing up in the shadow of the high rate of marital failures of their baby boomer parents.

The feature story also ran on the paper’s popular Web site, which has more than 34.5 million unique monthly visitors. Three days before the release of Thomas’s memoir, one of her essays, “The Divorce Generation,” ran in the paper with the largest U.S. weekly circulation, The Wall Street Journal. A week later, her book ranked an impressive 1,345 at Amazon. This ranking does not reflect sales on the site or in other retail outlets, but indicates the frequency by which a title is searched on Amazon. Susan Gregory Thomas has written for a number of publications and surely has contacts in the media. 

Following are some suggestions for those hoping to replicate her success:

Read local and national newspapers, print and/or online to keep up with stories, that might intersect with your work, providing the opening you need for writing a feature, or to interest an editor in developing a story around your topic.

Identify which staffers cover topics that intersect with your interests. As you develop an expertise, write to these journalists and their editors, submitting stories or essays on your chosen subject, including interviews with experts. The idea is to interest a journalist in a topic that might be the subject of an essay or feature, written by a staffer or perhaps by you (this might lead eventually to a review of your book, once it is published).

Contacting a journalist is more effective with traditional mail. Journalists receive little snail mail. Busy with deadlines, they are unlikely to open mail with computer generated labels and metered postage. Send a typed letter, no longer than two- thirds of a page, in a hand-addressed envelope with a postage stamp.

Identify bloggers who cover your topic and offer to guest blog.

Attempting to get into The New York Times is always worth a try, especially when the Sunday print edition has 1.35 million readers, and when so many publishing professionals relax over this paper.

Pay particular attention to feature pages and Op-Ed sections of several major newspapers. You can find a listing by Googling “U.S. newspaper circulation.”

Market your book by weighing in on subjects you’re knowledgeable about in the Letters to the Editor sections, or Op- Ed pages. A number of Web sites offer advice for crafting these pieces. If your Op- Ed piece touches upon issues in the news, that is a hook with a competitive edge. Magazine features also have clout in the publishing industry. If you have honed your skills as a writer and have newspaper features to submit along with a feature story idea, submit your pieces to magazines. In April 2012 in Vogue, Dara- Lynn Weiss wrote of her efforts to get her seven- year- old daughter to slim down and created a firestorm, with some accusing her of fat- shaming her child. She also attracted a publisher’s eye, and signed with Random House. Elif Batuman’s highly lauded The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them (Granta: 2011) began as articles by the author that ran in Harper’s and The New Yorker.

If you are new to feature writing, don’t rule out local city newspapers, as well as smaller regional papers in your pursuit of credentials. Free local publications can help you establish credibility. If an editor has run even one of your stories, the media is more likely to take you seriously. So start small, if necessary, and then move up. Later, when you query agents, include clips or links to some of your online features.

Finally, consider attending a conference to meet journalists with your interests. For instance, if you’re writing a religious memoir, visit the Religion Writers Web site: www.religionwriters.com.
Copyright © 2012 by Regina Brooks and Brenda Lane Richardson Visit their website at youshoudreallywriteabook.co or follow on twitter at: @serendipitylit or go to Regina Brook's website at: www.serendipitylit.com.

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Make Plans for Next Year

This weekend marks my second in a row where I'm home. Why is that different? I recently completed going to six conferences in a seven-week stretch. I met some fabulous writers and had the opportunity to teach and help other writers. It was intense but in a good way.

With a month and a half, left in this year, I've turned my attention to my speaking schedule for next year. If you follow this link, you will see some events are already on my calendar. There are only a few conferences at the time I'm writing this material. I expect it to grow in the coming weeks because I'm actively working at adding events to my schedule.

In recent months, I've moved to a new location and now I'm working with a New York based publisher—yet living in California. I've written friends who run conferences where I've spoken in the past but I'm also exploring new conferences and opportunities. 

In a word, I'm proactively asking the conference director to consider me for their 2013 or 2014 faculty. I wrote some friends who lead a large conference. They responded their conference was set for 2013 and they would think about me for 2014. I wrote back and asked when I should send a reminder for 2014–-and they told me the time period for next year. So I would not forget to send them a message next year, I set a reminder which will sound on my computer some time next year and send this conference director a reminder.

For some conferences, I'm approaching their director as a cold call (someone that I do not know). I'm introducing myself, pitching my position as an acquisitions editor with Morgan James, sending my short bio and list of possible speaking topics and workshops. I do not know if I will hear from them or not—but I'm asking for their consideration—and I'm expecting that some of this asking will result in scheduling more conferences in 2013 and 2014. I'm not passively waiting for it to happen.

What are you planning or dreaming about for the year ahead? Some writers would like to get their book published next year or get published in some magazine. What active steps are you taking to accomplish these plans?

Some writers would like to meet a particular editor or agent in the year ahead. Are you making plans to cross paths with that person in the year ahead? Publishing is a relational business and who you know is important and who you can reach out and touch is a key part of succeeding with your plans and dreams. It does not happen in isolation or without taking active steps.

One of my friends has completed a novel that he would like to see in print. Yet he's not reached out to a single editor or literary agent. The manuscript remains in his computer and will stay there until he takes active steps to get it into the marketplace. The writing and story has to be excellent—and this excellence is foundational—yet the writer must take action and enter the marketplace. 

Some of those pitches will be completely cold—as I've been doing to line up some speaking for 2013 and 2014. Other pitches will be where the author has a connection (however slight) to that editor. 

Maybe you are planning to attend a particular conference in 2013. That is excellent. Are you watching the conference website to see which editors and agents will be attending that conference? Then are you targeting those editors with material that they need or are searching for? I always enjoy my meeting with writers who have done some initial research about my publishing house. For those conversations, they instantly plunge to a deeper level than someone who has no idea what types of books we publish.

What are your plans for the year ahead? Are you actively working at seeing those plans come to reality? Take some steps today to move forward. 

As you knock on the doors, you will be surprised at the opportunities which open to you.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

The Constant Search in Publishing

Recently when I was speaking at a conference, over and over, individuals thanked me for being willing to meet with them. As an acquisitions editor, I'm constantly looking for great writing. Meeting with authors is a key part of my job and the back and forth dialogue is where some of the important work of publishing takes place—even though to some it may be in a few minutes.

Normally a conference will send their schedule to me ahead of time and see if I want to block off any time to attend sessions or just do other work outside of the conference. 

Repeatedly I do not block off time and try and take as many individual meetings as I can during the conference.

From the reaction of others, I've learned my willingness is a bit unusual. Apparently other editors take more control of their schedule and often limit the number of sessions they will take with new authors.

I wish you could see some of my conference schedules with these back to back meetings. These ten or fifteen minute sessions fly past. Sometimes I've met with as many as 20 to 30 different authors during a day. I'll admit by the end of the day it is hard for me to listen to another new idea.

Why do I have these sessions? There are several reasons:

1. I want to explore as much writing as possible because it is the constant search in publishing for excellent writing. I'm always looking for well-written material—fiction or nonfiction. From my years in the business, I can spot a quality project in just a few pages of writing. 

In my view, looking for good writing is like searching for treasure. When you find it, you recognize it and want to bring it to my publishing house.

2. One of the key ways that my own books have been published is through personal relationships formed at a writers' conference. It is my opportunity to give back to others and “pass it forward” through acquiring their work and publishing it at Morgan James.

At any given time, there are millions of proposals, pitches and manuscripts in circulation. Publishing continues to be a relational business. You have to have quality storytelling and writing but you also need that right connection. By attending conferences and listening to pitches from writers, I'm helping others form these key relationships.

Writers need to be vigilant and continually look for their next publishing opportunity. Several weeks ago, I met a writer with a novel at a conference. This author had a literary agent and after the conference I followed up and spoke with the agent. Following my phone call, I immediately sent the agent an email with my request for the electronic version of the manuscript. 

Today or almost a month after this phone exchange with the agent, I realized I had never received anything. I picked up the phone and got the agent on the phone asking about it. She said she had never seen my emails. I confirmed the email address and time I sent it—and as we were speaking, she found the emails. It's the type of follow-up work that I'm constantly doing to look for quality projects to publish. As I was writing this material, the agent sent me this manuscript. My follow-up work paid off.

After I receive the author's submission, I need to read it and process it. This means the author receives an acknowledgement letter for their submission in the mail. Also I write my feedback to the publication board and champion the author's work.

Our publication board meets each week and issues contracts to authors. It's been my joyous role to send the contracts to the authors and receive their excited responses.

Here's one of the amazing things to me as I travel the country and meet one-on-one with different authors. I repeatedly ask people for their material—and they don't do it. 

I encourage you to do your follow-up work and follow through sending your requested material to the editor or agent. It's a critical part of the process of getting published.

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Become A Follow-Up Expert

Over the last seven weeks, I've been moving around the U.S. speaking at six different events. It has been a marathon of meeting different authors and learning about their various projects.

Each week I've returned with possible books—nonfiction and fiction for Morgan James Publishing. If I could find the time, I've been sending emails and calling these individuals to get their manuscripts into the consideration process for our publication board. We receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 to 200 books a year. Here's the operative phrase in that last sentence: if I could find the time. To be honest, I couldn't always find the time to follow-up with these new authors.

The critical element in the process is follow-up. Over the last few weeks, I've heard about some great new book projects. Writers have showed me brief samples or told me about their work. I've looked them straight in the eye and said with sincerity, “That sounds like a great idea, send it to me.” 

Others I've seen their printed materials and I've asked them to send the electronic version of their proposal or manuscript to my Morgan James email address. Our publication board is scattered around the country and we work with the electronic version of your submission. For example, some of my colleagues live on the East Coast while I live in California. This electronic version of your material is critical. If I don't have it, then nothing happens—zip.

Numerous writers circled my work email address on my card and promised to send me their materials. Here's the reality: only a few of them have actually followed up and sent their materials.

Several of these writers sent in their materials right away. Because I had the electronic version of their work, I was able to get their books into our internal system for consideration from our publication board. When they get into this system, the author (or literary agent) receives an acknowledgement letter in the mail. It let's them know things are moving forward inside the publishing house. Each week our publication board meets and considers new books.

One of these authors I met a couple of weeks ago, submitted his proposal and sample chapters right after the conference. I put this project into our system and yesterday this author received a note of congratulations, a publication agreement (contract) and a short document outlining next steps for publication. Because I want to be a follow-up expert, I called this author and alerted him to the presence of this email with the documents attached. He was excited to receive this news.

In fact, I received this news for three authors yesterday. I called one of these authors and they returned my call. While on the phone, I realized they didn't have the three attachments so I followed up and immediately sent it to them. See the importance of tracking the details? With one little slip, an author doesn't receive the good news of a publishing contract.

With several of the others, I've written them and even called to follow-up and get their materials. I may love their printed information but without the electronic version, I'm stuck and can't help them move forward in the consideration process.

This week I noticed several emails in my work SPAM folder. I opened it and discovered a follow-up note from an author I met at the last minute during a recent conference. I exchanged business cards and had not had a chance to follow-up with her. I removed that email from my SPAM folder and sent an apologetic follow-up note. She immediately responded and is sending her materials early next week. This brief exchange again proves my point that you must become a follow-up expert.

While on the road, an author called me about a friend who has an interesting manuscript. I called this author early last week, gave him my email address and he promised to send it to me. Several days later (yesterday), I had not received the promised material and decided to call him again. He had gone to the publisher website and submitted his material online—instead of sending it directly to my email address. That means his material went into the unsolicited submission area instead of something coming directly to me for handling. Eventually I tracked down the submission but here's the lesson: send your material in the way the editor suggests you to send it.

Another author contacted me through twitter this week and wanted me to read his blog posts. Yes, I looked at it for a second but it gave me no context about the vision for his book, his overall marketing plans and his timetable for it. He was pitching a nonfiction book idea without doing the work of creating a book proposal. 

There is an old saying that is attributed to Will Rogers: You only get one chance to make a good first impression. The author who contacted me to read his blog material did not make a good first impression. Instead, he raised all sorts of questions that will return to me if and when he sends another email to me. 

To help your submission process, I'm including a short audio (less than three minutes). The audio is part of Southern Writers Radio Show and you can catch the entire show at this link: http://www.southernwritersonline.com

You can either use the button on the screen below. Or if you can't see it then click on this link: http://terrylinks.com/wtwswrf2012 and either save it to your computer or listen to it online. The audio includes a link to my book proposal checklist.

My great hope is this resource will help you in your journey to become a follow-up expert.

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